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Eisai to Collaborate With Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine and University of Liverpool to Discover New Drugs Against Filariasis

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March 20, 2014

Eisai announced today that it has entered a collaboration with the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine (LSTM) and the University of Liverpool (UoL) to identify new drugs that are effective against lymphatic filariasis and onchocerciasis (river blindness), both major types of the parasitic tropical disease filariasis.

Under the collaboration, Eisai will work with the nonprofit LSTM to develop and implement new tools and technologies for the control and treatment of tropical diseases, and with UoL, a world-class institute that has made major contributions toward understanding the mechanisms of drug action of several classes of anti-parasitic drugs, to identify and develop novel drug candidates that efficiently eliminate the bacteriaWolbachia.  Wolbachia live inside the parasitic worms, known as filariae, which cause lymphatic filariasis and onchocerciasis. These two filarial infectious diseases affect more than 150 million people worldwide.[1] As filariae are dependent on Wolbachia bacteria for growth, development, reproduction and survival, the worms can be effectively eradicated by first eliminating the Wolbachia inside them.

While current anti-filarial treatments are effective against larvae and microfilariae, they require many years of consistent, annual mass drug administration in endemic communities to successfully eliminate the adult worms. Anti-Wolbachia therapy is expected to lead to worm sterility and effective worm eradication, thereby reducing treatment times and improving therapeutic outcomes compared to existing anti-filarial drugs. Furthermore, as anti-Wolbachia programmes are still in their infancy, this collaboration has the potential to provide a unique opportunity to make a significant contribution to communities affected by filariasis.

To date, the screening of more than 10,000 potential anti-Wolbachia compounds has revealed approximately 50 potentially promising compounds, leading to identification of about six chemotypes with anti-infective potential. Eisai and its collaboration partners will focus on two of these with the aim of identifying a single candidate for potential drug development within one to two years.

This unique approach has been awarded a two-year grant by the Global Health Innovative Technology Fund (GHIT Fund), an international non-profit organisation that aims to promote the discovery of new health technologies for eliminating infectious diseases prevalent in developing countries.

In support of the World Health Organisation (WHO)’s programme to eliminate lymphatic filariasis by 2020, Eisai is supplying diethylcarbamazine (DEC) free of charge to the WHO. Under its collaboration with LSTM and UoL, Eisai aims to make new treatments available as early as possible to help patients with filariasis and thereby increase further the healthcare benefits provided to these patients and their families in developing and emerging countries.

About  Anti-Wolbachia  Therapy 

Anti-Wolbachia therapy is a new method of treatment that eradicates the adult worms that can cause filariasis by eliminating bacteria known as Wolbachia that live in the cells of their bodies. This approach has the potential to significantly reduce the timescale of elimination programs, to provide alternatives to existing treatments, and to deliver tools that can be used in areas where current approaches are failing or cannot be deployed. Doxycycline, an antibiotic, is believed to work in this way and proof of concept has already been established in human field trials, which showed excellent results although requiring four to six weeks of daily treatment and being unsuitable for administration to children and pregnant women.

Under its collaboration with the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine (LSTM) and University of Liverpool (UoL), Eisai will aim to identify potential new drug compounds that act more quickly and more effectively than doxycycline and that could be used across all population groups, and to develop these molecules to the stage of pre-clinical safety testing.

About Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine and the University of Liverpool

The LSTM is a non-profit charitable institution with a mission to develop and implement new tools and technologies for the control and treatment of tropical diseases. LSTM has an existing anti-Wolbachia program funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and has developed assays and models to test compounds for anti-Wolbachia activity on a large scale.

The Department of Chemistry at the UoL has made major contributions toward understanding the mechanisms of drug action of several classes of anti-parasitic drugs. Over their 20 years in partnership, UoL and LSTM have adopted a “molecule to man” strategy to instigating its research projects, operating at all stages of the drug discovery pipeline up to and including clinical trials in humans. To date, a total of three projects have contributed to the portfolio of the Medicines for Malaria Venture (MMV), an organization that has developed the largest portfolio of anti-malarial drugs in history.

See the press release here.

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